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Fixing the Win

Let’s have a Super Wonky Joe Peppy Tone Baseball Roundup today.

As mentioned a few times here at the JPT, a few of us are working on fixing the pitcher win (and loss) in baseball. If you’re interested in the background, you can go here. Today: I want to give you one of the more promising ideas, promoted by Tom Tango.

Tango agrees with me that fixing the win requires three basic things: (1) It must improve the current stat. That’s obvious. (2) It should adjust the current rule rather than blow it up. That’s less obvious but I think it’s true.(3) It should be simple and elegant enough that people will be motivated to make the change.

Tom’s idea: Change six words in the rule.

Rule 9.17a: The official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher that pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or in the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not reliquish such lead

That’s the official rule. Tango wants to simply take out that last part, the bold part: And does not relinquish such lead.

Six words. That’s his whole change.

OK, you ask, what does that do? Well, instead of making it the LAST pitcher to leave with the lead in victory like it is now, you make it the FIRST pitcher to leave with the lead. That’s all. That’s the whole change.

It can be a bit tricky to get your head around this — but if you think about it, this is how the rule should have been in the first place. The most common scenario is that a qualified starter (qualified meaning he pitched at least five innings) leaves the game with the lead., The bullpen blows that lead. Then the starter’s team comes back to win.

Why should anyone in the bullpen get that victory? Shouldn’t the starter get the victory?

Let me show you a real life example using my friend Jim Kaat, who won 283 games in his career. Just about everyone agrees that if he had won 17 more games, he’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now. Well, if the rules had been even slightly different, he WOULD have won 300 games.

OK, Kaat had 85 no decisions where his team eventually won. In the vast majority of those, he left with the score tied or his team behind. He pitched well enough in many of them to DESERVE the win by various measures, but that’s not the point here. The point is how many would he have won under Tom’s slight amendment to the win rule?

Answer: Six.

June 25, 1965: Kaat pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowed four runs (three earned) and left with a 6–4 lead. Mudcat Grant gave back one of those runs, and Dick Stigman gave up the tying run in the ninth on homer to Smoky Burgess. Stigman got the win because the Twins scored the game-winner in the tenth.

Who deserved the win? Kaat.

May 25, 1966: Kaat pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowed three runs and left with a 5–3 lead. Johnny Klippstein blew the game in the ninth, Garry Roggenburg picked up the win with 1 1/3 innings of relief.

Who deserved the win? Kaat.

May 4, 1971: Kaat pitched seven innings, allowed one run, and left with a 4–1 lead. Lindy McDaniel blew the game in the ninth, but got the win because the Twins scored the game-winner in the 10th.

Who deserved the win? Kaat.

June 28, 1972: Kaat pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowed three runs and left with a 5–3 lead. Wayne Granger blew the lead, allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings — but the Twins quickly took the lead the back so Granger got the victory.

Who deserved the win? Kaat.

August 26, 1976: Kaat pitched seven innings, allowed two runs and left with a 4–2 lead. Ron Reed blew the lead, the game went into extra innings and eventually Tug McGraw pitched two scoreless innings and got the victory .

Who deserved the win? Closer since the game went on a long time but I’d still say Kaat.

June 9, 1980: Kaat pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed four runs, but just two earned. He left with 5–4 lead. John Littlefield gave up the tying run and got the victory when the Cardinals scored again to win.

Who deserved the win? Kaat certainly deserved it more than Littlefield.

This is not to say that there are NO situations where a starter might get an undeserved win this way. If a starter gives up seven runs and leaves with an 8–7 lead and then a reliever gives up the tying run, and another reliever pitches two or three good innings, sure, I could see the argument. I think it’s pretty easy to fix those rare circumstances.

If you would like to dive a bit more into this, you can see the Tango Win in action here thanks to Geoff Buchan (@RotoValue on Twitter). He has figured out the last five seasons. He shows that this year, already, Marco Estrada has been tangoed out of two deserved victories.

— On April 15, he left with a 1–0 lead after pitching seven scoreless, Roberto Osuna stole the win by allowing the tying run in the ninth.

— Ten days later, Estrada pitched six innings, left with a 4–2 lead, Joe Biagini gave up the two runs to tie the game and, on down the road, Jason Grilli took the win with one inning.

Estrada should have gotten both those wins. No doubt about it.

So, play around with the Tango Win page and tell us what you think. And consider this: There are those in our group who think this rule doesn’t go nearly far enough to fix the win — it still does not reward starters who pitch great but because of timing do not get the victory. We’ll come back to this next week.

That Nats Bullpen

Been having a friendly argument with a friend of mine who is a huge Nationals fan. He has complained that the Nationals bullpen is a disaster. There’s no real argument there at the moment.

The argument is over this question: What percentage of your overall payroll would you give to the bullpen?

This is obviously hypothetical — we’re not REALLY talking payroll. We’re talking about where you would invest your resources. Of your 100% resources, how much of it would you use to have a good bullpen? At this moment, the Nationals spent roughly 10% of their overall payroll on the bullpen. Too much? Too little?

My friend says WAY too little. He thinks they should be spending at least twice as much, maybe three times as much, to have a dominant bullpen.

I understand what he’s saying but I also think that’s an emotional argument. It stinks losing games late. The bullpen, more than any other part of the game, messes with your passions.

But, realistically, I think spending a lot of money on the bullpen is fool’s gold. Two reasons. One, I don’t think money equals success in the bullpen. To me, the best bullpens are mishmashes of hard throwing young players who cost very little by baseball standards and in-their-prime veterans who probably have not cashed in yet. You look at the dominant Royals bullpen of the mid-2010s. Their dominance was built around a 10th round pick scouts thought was too small (Greg Holland), a failed starter (Wade Davis) and a hard-throwing kid from the Dominican (Kelvin Herrera). I don’t think you can buy your way to a great bullpen.

I think the Nationals — with their impossibly terrible decision to trade for Jonathan Papelbon — proved that point already.

The second reason, though, is more direct: There just isn’t that much opportunity in the bullpen. Teams win the vast majority of games that they are leading through six, seven and eight innings. Yes, you can play around within the margins, steal a few games with a bullpen that shuts everyone down late — and that’s important, especially come playoff time when every win matters more.

But if you’re trying to build a great team, I think there are much bigger opportunities in the starting rotation and especially among everyday players.

Believe it or not, I think this year’s Nationals team is proving me right. The Nationals bullpen has, indeed, been a train wreck. My friend is 100% right, and I get his exasperation. The Nats bullpen is near the bottom in every bad category — ERA, WHIP, OPS, homers allowed, what have you. Dusty Baker seems to be scanning the crowd these days to find someone to throw in there in the eighth inning. I get it.

And you know what? The Nationals STILL have the best record in the National League.

Statcast™ Thought of the Day

Well, let’s stay with that Nationals Bullpen and another Wonky Deep Dive. Statcast™. You probably know about the statistic “Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).” If not, you can learn all about wOBA here. It sounds complicated but it is basically just a one-stop way to judge a player’s overall offensive value.

In all:

A .400 wOBA is amazing.

A .320 wOBA is average.

A .290 wOBA is awful.

You will not be surprised to know that the Nationals bullpen gives up a .359 wOBA this year, worst in baseball. It basically means they have turned every player they face into an All-Star.

But, if you’re staying with me, let’s take it one step further. Statcast™ uses how hard the ball is hit and at what launch angle to come up with an EXPECTED wOBA. That is to say if a hitter hits with an exit velocity of 100 mph at a 25 degree angle, you would expect that be an extra base hit, probably a home run. If a hitters hit with an exit velocity of 80 mph at a 45 degree angle, that’s a pop-up and an out almost every time.

The Nationals bullpen EXPECTED wOBA is only .313, which is actually not bad. That would be somewhere in the middle of the pack — they’re not JUST giving up rocket after rocket.

But, as I already told you, their ACTUAL wOBA is atrocious. The gap between expectation and reality for the Nationals is 46 points, far and away the biggest difference in baseball.

In other words, yes, the Nationals bullpen is pitching poorly. But they’ve also probably been unlucky … and the defense has not helped.

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